Braeriach

A big day on the hills you cannae beat it. Just a man and his dug and one simple goal : climb the 3rd highest mountain in Scotland. At 4,252 feet above sea level its a beast but the weathers glorious (I never go out on a miserable day, whats the point..soaking wet, nae views..).

Left the house at 6.45am and set off from the Sugar Bowl car park at 9am. I even paid the £2 for parking. The walk follows a lovely path over a burn by a wooden bridge then up past the shelter where the ranger was feeding the reindeer. You don’t see that in Dunblane, I comment to the Shitzu who looks on, astonished.

In Dunblane, you don’t see snow in July either but here in the Cairngorms you can see snow fields high up in the north facing corries. You forget how cold it can be up there and too often I forget to pack hat and gloves because the forecast is scorchio and 20 degrees.

We walk on past isolated pine trees and the heather (which really is purple). Past another burn, jump across the boulders, stoop to get a drink. The water tastes of snow I swear. Is that possible? In winter, folk say theres snow in the air so it must be possible. Plus it probably is meltwater.

We then enter the Chalamain Gap which is like something out of Lord of the Rings. A giants boulder field fills the gorge, the path stops abruptly as if theres been a massive rockfall the night before. I clamber over slanting boulders, jump down crouching, pull myself up onto another rock and turn round to see the Shitzu following. Shes fae Tibet. This is a doddle if you’re fae Tibet.

We finally reach the head of the gorge and the view is amazing. The path lies ahead and below us, dropping into the Lairig Ghru and then up the shoulder of Braeriach which is a huge mountain, with scalloped corries and snow fields. We breakfast in the Lairig Ghru beside the burn. The water is so clear and the air Alpine.

And then we climb…and climb. An hours solid work takes us onto the plateau, an arctic tundra where we cross occasional boulder fields before dropping down and one final slog and we’re on top of the world, 4 hours after leaving the car park. Theres not a breath of wind on the summit. Total silence.

Others walkers are there too and we nod to each other. Its like visiting a sacred site (a mosque?): nobody wants to break the silence and ruin the moment. I put a stone on the cairn and think of my folks and also, of my old football coach who died in a mountain bike accident the day before.

Two men are talking in hushed tones, pointing to distant peaks. Can you see the Paps of Jura, I joke, bringing down the tone. Wry smiles show no offence taken. No but see that there, over the shoulder of Cairn Toul, theres two peaks…see them ? Thats the Lomond Hills in Fife. Must be 60 miles away, adds the other. We look into the distance. 60 miles. Silence. Turning round I can see the Moray Firth and hills beyond and in the east the flat line of the North Sea. Out west theres a line of jagged peaks I can’t identify.

We retrace our steps. Its a long haul and this time I carry the Shitzu through the Chalamain Gap. Four legs better than two? Not here. 3 hours later we arrive back, tired but happy, at the car park. Loch Morlich then Aviemore are mobbed as folk revel in the relaxation of lockdown rules so no chippy but we stop in Kingussie for food and picnic below the shell of Ruthven barracks.

We arrive home after 8, about 14 hours after leaving the house. I proudly write in my munro book and literally tick off Braeriach on my munro map. I’ve now completed 124 out of 282 but its a lifetime project (although the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye is unlikely with my acrophobia).

Strangely the next day I have no sore muscles but its days before I get my energy levels back to normal. None of us are getting younger haha.

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